A Weirton man has received a state award for his efforts to help local children who have been abused or neglected, and an area sportsman's club has received praise locally for its own efforts to break the cycle of child abuse.
Robert Campbell of Weirton said he was surprised to be named the West Virginia Court-Appointed Special Advocate Volunteer of the Year.
"I didn't expect it. I didn't even know the award existed," said Campbell, who has served as a volunteer for A Child's Place CASA for about a year.
A Child's Place CASA trains volunteers to represent the interests of children involved in abuse and neglect cases in Brooke and Hancock counties. The nonprofit program is one of about a dozen CASAs in West Virginia and among more than 1,000 in the U.S.
Rhonda Stubbs, A Child's Place CASA's executive director, explained while courts may order that such children be removed from their homes, they also often call for the parents to undergo various types of counseling in an effort to keep families together, with the children's safety an overriding factor.
CASA volunteers visit the families at their homes to determine if the parents are following the court's orders and the environment is safe. They deliver written reports on their findings to a judge who must determine what's best for the children.
The task requires patience and dedication, two qualities Campbell has in abundance, Stubbs said.
"He has a lot of patience and he keeps plugging away. His face should be next to the word 'patience' in the dictionary," she joked.
"He meets with his families very regularly and gets to know the kids," Stubbs added.
Campbell said of the experience, "There's a lot of subtlety and a lot of persistence involved, knowing that the goal is finding what's right for the child."
A native of Long Beach, Calif., he learned of the program, while living in the Golden State, from a friend who was a CASA volunteer.
After retiring from a career in metal distribution and moving to Weirton to be closer to his grown daughters and grandchild, Campbell said he was looking for a way to get involved in the community when he saw a newspaper article about A Child's Place CASA.
"One of the reasons I got involved is giving back to the community is important to me, and children are the future of their communities," he said.
Campbell is one of 21 trained volunteers serving the program, which has served 328 children since it was formed in 2000 and currently is serving 58, with still 16 others in need of an advocate, Stubbs said.
CASA volunteers must undergo a 40-hour training course and take oaths before a local circuit court judge attesting they will keep confidential the cases they are assigned, in accordance with state laws.
Stubbs said many businesses, groups and individuals have aided A Child's Place CASA in other ways.
The program is funded with federal Victims of Crime Acts funds, but the funds are limited and not guaranteed from year to year, so the group has depended on grants, sponsors and various fundraisers.
Last year the Brooke County Sportsmen's Club in Wellsburg reached out to help the group at the suggestion of a former CASA board member who belongs to the hunting and fishing club.
Located on McAdoo Ridge, the club raised $1,000 for A Child's Place CASA through a Charity Weekend held in September and hosted a breakfast benefiting the program on the first day of hunting season in November.
"They have even come up with a slogan: 'Real men take a stand against child abuse,'" said Stubbs, who presented the program's annual Stick Your Neck Out for CASA Award to the club.
"We're really thrilled about their adopting us," said Stubbs.
She said the club's involvement is in keeping with her goal of involving more men in CASA, though she's quick to add the club has many female members who also have embraced the cause.
A Child's Place CASA will observe Child Abuse Prevention Month at 7:30 p.m. Thursday with its annual candlelight vigil on the Wellsburg Town Square. Candles representing the many children aided by the program will be lit, and brief remarks will be shared about the fight against child abuse.
Everyone is invited, said Stubbs.